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How to increase maize production despite challenges

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
22 April 2022   |   2:55 am
Adopting improved hybrid varieties, use of fertiliser or manure and maximising plant population per hectare by Nigerian farmers have been identified as ways to increase production and productivity of maize in the country.

A maize farm

‘Most farmers can’t afford quality inputs’
Adopting improved hybrid varieties, use of fertiliser or manure and maximising plant population per hectare by Nigerian farmers have been identified as ways to increase production and productivity of maize in the country.

But, high prices of inputs have been an obstacle to most small-scale farmers cultivating fewer than two or three hectares of farmland with no funding support. To experts, this situation calls for empowerment, special interventions or subsidies on inputs for farmers.

Production and consumption data have pinpointed a deficit of over 8.0 million metric tonnes as Nigeria produces about 12.0 million tonnes of maize, while yearly demand hovers around 20.0 million metric tonnes, fueling hike in price.

Productivity of farmers has remained as low as 1.5 to 2.5 metric tonnes per hectare, while in Europe, Asia and America, it is an average of 7.0 metric tonnes.

Average production of 1.8MT/Ha in Nigeria is considered the lowest among top 10 maize producers in Africa. In Egypt and South Africa, yields are 7.7 MT/Ha and 5.3MT/Ha respectively, and ecologically, Nigeria has comparative advantage over Egypt.

Speaking with The Guardian on the importance of planting materials, the Executive Director, National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr Sunday Aladele, said without seeds with improved genetic potential, productivity would always be lower than expected, no matter how much fertiliser is used. He advised farmers to invest in seeds and the yield would justify their investments.

Apart from improved varieties, agronomists have often said that the width of rows and the spacing of plants in the row are determinants of plant population per hectare. Hence, the closer the spacing, the more maize population per hectare of land, hence the potential higher yield. The higher the population of maize, the higher the yield per hectare.

The Country Manager of a popular seed company in Nigeria, Olumide Ibikunle, said the recommended number of maize plants per hectare range from 36,000 to 60,000, depending on the environmental yield potential and hybrid. High plant populations are appropriate in rainforest ecologies or where adequate irrigated facilities are available.

Lower plant populations should be used under dryland conditions, especially in drought-prone and semi-arid regions where a population of from 37,000 to 40,000 plants per hectare is recommended.

To get the maximum plant population, he explained, 75cm space in-between two rows and 25cm space between two plants of maize in the same row are advised by agronomists. This spacing requires farmers to plant only one kernel of maize per hole and apply fertilizer within two weeks of planting.

No less than 25 kilogrammes of maize seed is required to plant one hectare of land at maximum plant population.

Time of planting also matters. In the northern part of Nigeria, maize is recommended to be planted around June and July and in the South and some part of the north-central, late April to May, when rainfalls are fully established.

Planting earlier exposes the crop to droughts and intermittent dry spells, which in turn drastically affect yield per hectare.

The use of herbicides and pesticides are also important to getting maximum yield. Application of fertiliser is also identified as inevitable if the country is to attain greater maize production.

However, prices of improved hybrid seeds, fertiliser, tractor services and agro-chemicals, among others, are on the high side, which actually have been preventing the majority of farmers from maximising production.

The All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN) said to ensure use of improved seeds, fertiliser and other agro-chemicals critical for higher yields of grains, the Federal Government should deepen various existing off-taking arrangements and funding systems.

The president of the association, Ibrahim Kabir, said the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), where off-takers, financial institutions and insurers empower farmers with inputs and finances should be escalated through appropriate channels to every state to have huge impacts on productivity.

Without such assistance, he said, most farmers, due to financial constraints, would only recycle grains as seeds, avoid use of fertiliser and agro-chemicals and would do manual tillage, planting and weeding with resultant poor yields.

The call came just as the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, said recently that the apex bank would finance the cultivation of 600,000 hectares of maize in the 2022 wet season farming to mitigate the impending food crisis occasioned by the Russia and Ukraine war.

He stated this at the unveiling of 21 maize pyramids, a collaborative effort of the CBN and Maize Association of Nigeria (MAAN) Anchor Borrower Programme.

He said the CBN/MAAN partnership produced a total of 300 metric tonnes in 2021, displayed in 12 pyramids and released to the market through allocation to major feed mills and large-scale poultry farms.

According to him, “As we prepare for another wet season programme, the Central Bank of Nigeria is committed to financing over 600,000 hectares. Our strategy is hinged on improving productivity by providing more funding for the anchors to enable them to utilise high quality inputs and good agronomic practices to boost output.”

Also, experts at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) also reiterated that the country can close the yearly maize deficit by embracing high-yielding hybrid maize varieties, using yield-enhancing inputs such as fertiliser, insecticides and weed-control technologies.

About 10 per cent of Nigerian farmers are said to be planting hybrid varieties, while IITA experts said the percentage should increase to a minimum of 50 per cent to close the gap.

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